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Friday, September 30, 2011

KNOCK ON WOOD (1954)

Danny Kaye plays a touring American ventriloquist who unknowing smuggles some Top Secret military documents across Europe in this farcical Spy vs Spy caper. (The diagrams have been hidden in his two dummies.) That’s the set up on this Melvin Frank/Norman Panama comedy which isn’t all that different from some of their previous vehicles for Bob Hope. (They’d find a more Kaye-specific tone on THE COURT JESTER/’56 though Danny always held this London-based pic as his personal favorite.) The plot works up two sets of foreign spies with Danny as innocent man-in-the-middle. Once the body count starts to rise, Kaye looks like the new London Ripper. Now on the lam from spies, cops and even the general public (only his g'friend/shrink Mai Zetterling believes him), Kaye has to assume a series of identities to stay undercover: stuffy car salesman, Irish pub mate, Russian Ballet dancer; all to solid comic results. (The ballet pastiche sounds cringe-inducing, but as staged & helmed by choreographer Michael Kidd, it’s sharp, accurate & unexpectedly hilarious.) But whatever happened to those dummies? After an opening scat duet & a startling moment as Danny loses control of his jealous wooden pal, that’s it. Couldn’t they have played some part in the chase or, at least, shown up for the finale? Kind of a wasted opportunity.

DOUBLE-BILL: For a classic portrait of a psychologically poisoned pair of puppet & puppeteer, see Michael Redgrave and his mahogany alter-ego in DEAD OF NIGHT/’45. Others swear by Anthony Hopkins’ work in MAGIC.’78, but its awfully gimmicky.

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